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Social Inequality. "...all animals are equal here, but some are more equal than others." [G,Orwell, Animal Farm ]. What does Social Inequality Mean?. Differential Access to. Prestige. Wealth. Power. Prestige. In What Areas of social life do Inequalities Exist?. Gender Race Age

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What does Social Inequality Mean?

Differential Access to

  • Prestige





In What Areas of social life do Inequalities Exist?

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Kinship

Classification of Societies Based on the Equality-Inequality continuum

  • Egalitarian Societies
  • Ranked Societies
  • Stratified Societies

Egalitarian societies

  • Eg. Hadza of Tanzania, !Kung bushmen of the Kalahari, and Batek of Malaysia
  • Foragers with few possessions, no land ownership, and little specialization, other than a division of labour based on gender and age
  • lack any clear organisational structure
  • There is a continuing debate as to whether there is inequality between men and women in foraging societies.

Hadza of Tanzania


Marx and Engels argued that the real basis of social and political inequality was property, and that since there was no private property in primitive societies, there was no state and no class or inequality.

!Kung bushmen of the Kalahari


Foragers recognize individuals with special skills, but those who possess them are not seen superior in other respects

  • Leaders have influence, but no authority
  • The people possess norms that emphasize sharing and ideals of interpersonal equality.

Ranked societies

  • Common in horticultural societies where surplus gives rise to resources and privileges
  • people are divided into hierarchically ordered groups that differ in terms of prestige and status
  • but not significantly in terms of access to resources (wealth) or power.
  • it is possible to identify persons we can label as chiefs whose inherited position has prestige
  • This is often linked to the redistribution of goods.

Little Big Man

Tribe : Oglala Lakota )


With ranked societies comes the need to organize labor beyond the household level and the potential for major construction projects (cooperative labor)

  • Individuals can achieve power and prestige

Stratified Societies

  • Societies divided into horizontal layers of equality and inequality.
  • Marked inequalities in access to wealth, power, and prestige
  • passed from generation to generation.
  • Has a significant effect on individuals’ “life chances.” (Weber)
  • Found almost exclusively within complex societies with centralised political systems and large populations

Ranked divisions are called strata.

  • Stratification systems vary in
    • the number of ranked groups,
    • the degree to which there is agreement regarding their hierarchical placement
    • the size of the strata
    • The ability of individuals to move within strata
    • Supporting ideology

frequently, such cultures are symbolized not by the handshake, which reflects equality, but by different forms of bowing, symbolizing inequality


Comparative Systems


U. S. 1970

U. S. 1999




Asante Kotoko

  • Control of wealth and power in the hands of a few.
  • Status and rewards are heritable.
  • Social mobility is limited.

What is Class?

  • Class is essentially a theoretical concept
  • Classes are strata of a particular kind.
  • defined primarily in terms of roles and economic relationships.
classes in canada
Classes in Canada

Upper Class

  • Upper-upper class
    • About 1%, “old money”
  • Lower-upper
    • 2-4%, nouveau riche, .com millionaires.
    • Sir Kenneth Thompson Canada’s richest man (19.6+ billion 2006) (9th in the world)
    • David Thomson and family 22 billion 2007
classes in canada middle class
Classes in Canada: Middle Class
  • 40 – 50% of population
  • Considerable racial and ethnic diversity
    • Upper-middle: upper managerial or professional fields ($100k +)
    • middle-middle class. ($50-$100,000)
    • Lower-middle: middle management, white-collar and highly skilled blue-collar. (<$50,000)
classes in canada working class
Classes in Canada: Working Class
  • 1/3 of the population.
  • Lower incomes than middle-class.
  • No accumulated wealth.
  • Less personal satisfaction in jobs.
classes in canada lower class
Classes in Canada: Lower Class
  • 20% of population
  • Social assistance and working poor
  • Revolving door of poverty
  • Seasonal, part-time workers, minimum wage earners.

Because there are no physical markers or signs of class we need cultural ones.

  • So How are Social Classes Manifest?
  • through verbal evaluation - I.e what people say about their own society - by singling out and speaking favourably or unfavourably about a group of people and their political, economic, or other qualities
  • through patterns of association - In Western society, informal friendly relations take place mainly within one's own class. Eg a janitor is unlikely to associate with a CEO
  • through language
  • through symbolic indicators I.e.activities and possessions indicative of class

Wealth: rich people generally are of a higher social class than poor people

  • Dress: white collar vs. blue collar
  • Form of recreation: upper-class people are expected to play golf rather than shoot pool down at the pool hall - but they can do it at home.
  • Residential location: upper-class people do not ordinarily live in slums
  • Material Possessions: Kind of car: Rolex watch, how many bathrooms a house has

Occupation: a garbage collector has a different class status than a physician







  • we find broadly similar patterns of occupational ranking across a very wide range of societies eg Canada, Poland and South Africa

Rank These Occupations

What criteria do you use?


Sumptuary Laws

  • King Henry VIII, (1509 to 1547), introduced an elaborate set of regulations governing how everyone was to dress down to the smallest detail.
  • The color, style and fabric content of a person's clothing signaled that person's rank in society.
  • The main purpose of the legislation was to mark class distinctions clearly and to prevent any person from assuming the appearance of a superior class.
  • People who lived in England during the 16th century knew at a glance where everyone stood in the social pecking order.

None shall wear . . .any lace of gold or silver, lace mixed with gold or silver, silk, spurs, swords, rapiers, daggers, buckles, or studs with gold, silver or gilt. . . except . . .Baron's Sons, all above that rank, Gentlemen attending the Queen, Knights and Captains.


Sumptuary Laws

  • The Greeks used footwear as a symbol of wealth and status. Slaves were not allowed to wear shoes.
  • Romans also used footwear as an indication of social class. In 200 A.D Roman Emperor, Aurelius declared that only he and his successors would have the right to wear red sandals.
  • in Japan sumptuary laws were applied to the peasant and commercial classes until the mid-19th cent.

Greek shoe

  • Are school uniforms sumptuary “laws”. Is their intent to remind students of their subordinate status, in the hopes they will be more submissive?

What sort of things does social class affect

  • Lifestyles and Interests
  • Tastes
  • Language
  • Self Image
  • Values
  • Political orientation
  • Access to such resources as education, health care, housing and consumer goods.
  • Access to power, wealth and prestige
  • How long you will live & how healthy you will be

London 2000.The difference in life expectancy between social class I (professionals) and social class V (unskilled manual workers) is 9.5 years for men and 6.4 years for women (Hattersley, 1999).

class cultures
Class Cultures
  • Pierre Bourdieu (1984) Cultural capital- the cultural assets of class:
      • speech etiquette,
      • dress,
      • body language,
      • information
      • tastes.
  • Bourdieu’s found the culture of the upper class was oriented to abstract thought and formal reasoning…art, literature and intellectual leisure activities. The lower class was focused on the concrete, the necessities of life.
  • These differences appear early in life, upper-class children know numbers and alphabets, have books, magazines, have been to concerts, have computers, have traveled, know proper grammar.
  • Classes often amount to subcultures. Classes tend to reproduce themselves culturally.

Class Mobility

How easy is it to change class

  • rags to riches
  • Ideology encourages upward striving
  • but mobility may be limited
  • in Canada based on presumptions of merit -- one gets what one deserves.
  • How many believe everyone is born equal.
  • How rigid are classes.
  • People can imitate a raised status by adopting the symbols and trappings of upper classes
  • Rich get richer and poor get poorer
conceptions of social class
Conceptions of social Class
  • Plato: two classes: Rich and Poor
  • Aristotle three classes: upper class, servile lower class and a worthy middle class
  • Romans used the word Classis anddivided the population for taxation into the Assidui richest, and proletarii who owned only their children
karl marx s concept of class
Karl Marx’s Concept of Class
  • Marx and Friedrick Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto in 1849. The history of class struggles.
  • linked the emergence of class society to the rise of private property and the state.
  • Class positionis defined in terms of the relationship of people's labour to the means of production.
    • Bourgeoisie who own the land and machinery (capital)
    • Proletariat who sell their labour for wages
  • In a capitalistic society (i.e. Western Europe, the US and Canada)
  • the middle class of merchants and professionals, he believed,
  • would be crushed into becoming proletariat.
  • the farmers and peasants would have little role. Underclass (Lumpenproletariat)

Karl Marx’s Concept of Class

  • Exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie leads to alienation
  • once the members become aware that they are being exploited they become a ‘class for itself’ instead of simply a ‘class of itself’ and rise up in revolution.
  • This Class consciousness thus leads to class conflict
  • These struggles advance society to become classless and egalitarian where the private ownership of production and property was abolished…all would be proletarian
weber s three dimensions of stratification
Weber’s Three dimensions of Stratification
  • Stratification is not solely economic.
  • suggested that class results from interplay of three other significant factors: class, status and party:
  • These have been adapted to 3 Ps: property (class) Prestige (status) and Power (party)
  • Weber defined class as a group of people with similar “life chances”.

Max Weber 1864-1920

ascription and achievement
Ascription and Achievement
  • Achieved status is a position gained on merit or achievement.
  • Ascribed status is a position based on who you are, not what you do.
  • Ascriptive status places people in status positions because of family background, race, sex, or place of birth.

Inequalities in Canada

  • In Canada inequalities of wealth, income and occupation between racial and ethnic groups, and genders certainly exist
  • inequalities due to race and gender co-exist with and to some extent cut across those due to occupation
  • but they exist in a moral and cultural environment whose basic premise is equality.
  • Egalitarian in aspiration and hierarchical in organisation
  • in India the basic guiding principle in social relations is inequality.

What is Caste

  • A stratification system where cultural or racial differences are used as the basis for ascribing status
  • Castes are named, territorially delimited, and membership is determined by birth and unchanging
  • Caste is a rigid system of occupationally specialized, interdependent groups
  • Caste is the fundamental social institution in India
  • Most developed form is among Hindus although it is also found with Muslims and Christians and Sikhs
  • Castes are ranked by purity and pollution customs.
  • Caste organises political, economic and ritual life

Has existed among Hindus for at least 2000 years

  • The term caste was given by Portuguese travellers and comes from the Latin castus meaning pure
  • The original Sanskrit for the caste system was "varna", which means color.
  • Some believe that the caste system was originally based upon color lines between the conquering Aryans and the darker, native Dravidians.
  • The first three castes may have originated with the classes of Aryan society who used the darker, native population as their servants.

the four varnas are ranked in descending order of importance, prestige, and purity.

    • Brahmin (priests) scholars, philosophers - rewarded with honor
    • Kshatriya(warriors), rulers administrators and organizers - rewarded with power )
    • Vaishya (The People) merchants, farmers, traders, artisans, engineers - rewarded with wealth
    • Shudra. (servants) servants, hired hands, unskilled laborers, factory workers, manual laborers - rewarded with freedom from responsibility
  • Untouchables, also known as Harijans or Dalits (oppressed/ crushed), fall outside of the caste system all together.

Twice born

  • "twice born." This has nothing to do with reincarnation since everyone gets reincarnated.
  • A person who is "twice born" is born once as a baby and then goes through a coming-of-age ceremony to become an adult.
  • A person who has passed through this ritual, called an upanaya, receives a sacred thread that he wears looped over one shoulder and across the torso.
  • Because Neither the Sudras nor the Dalits are twice-born their members may never learn the sacred Sanskrit language or study the holy Veda texts by themselves.


Brahmins are seen as mediators between the human and divine worlds

Brahmins deserve respect from everyone else and are considered so pure that they may never eat food prepared by anyone but another Brahmin.

This means that Brahmins cannot go to a restaurant where the staff are not also Brahmins

A Maithil Brahman from a rural village north of Darbhanga

Brahmin priests at the annual changing of the sacred thread.



The Kshatriya are members of the warrior varna. Their lifetime goal is to serve as protector to their people.

Historically, The Kshatriya has contained most of the political leaders and kings, landowners

Rajput Landowner and his family on their land Smoking a hooka, or water pipe. 



  • landless group of merchants, shopkeepers and artisans.
  • Most closely resembles the middle class

The Fruit Merchant

(Paan Wallah) the Paan Maker

Paan is a like chewing tobacco although made from betelnut and paan leaves. It stains your teeth orange.



  • The Shudra caste performs services – the hard work and labor
  • Their specific service is a birthright
  • This varna, resembles the medieval European peasant class.

A Nai or barber sets up shop on the side of the road where anyone can come and get their hair cut or face shaven.  Their wives are often midwives.

Dhobi – Washermen They wash the clothing for all the different caste levels. the local Dhobis wash the clothes of their patrons, and then lay them out in to dry.

Mali, or gardeners


Harijans or Dalits (untouchables)

In India musicians are Harijans (god's children)

The act of playing some of these instruments is considered to be unclean. 

The saliva that is being blown into the horns is thought to be very unhygenic, therefore not fit for people in higher castes to play these instruments.


They were called "untouchables" because they were forbidden to touch anyone who belongs to one of the four varnas.

  • If a Brahmin priest touches an "untouchable", he or she must go through a ritual in which the pollution is washed away.
  • "untouchables"do all the most unpleasant work in South Asia.
  • They are forced to live on the outskirts of towns and villages,
  • they must take water downstream from and not share wells with varna Hindus.
  • Hindus think that a person is born to this class because of bad karma he or she earned in a pervious life.

Each caste must observe certain rules and rituals involving notions of purity and impurity such as food habits .

  • for example, what kind of boiled vegetables they might share and with whom without pollution since substances such as hair, sweet, saliva and other secretions that can be transferred to people through food and water are polluting
  • thus the rules of how people of different caste are supposed to relate to one another to avoid pollution

In northern India, "untouchables"were forced to use drums to announce their arrival

  • even their shadows were thought to be polluting.
  • In the south, some Brahmins stipulated that the lower castes would have to maintain a distance of 22 metres from them in order not to contaminate their betters
  • Dalit children often have limited opportunities

A persons varna is inherited – i.e. ascribed at birth

  • individual mobility is limited or non-existent
  • The basis of the caste divisions was social and economic rather than racial
  • Castes are strongly endogamous. Caste is still extremely important in marriage. Most Hindus marry within their caste

The Hindu Matrimonials

NIYOGI, TELUGU BRAHMIN parents seek alliance for good-looking son,

29/168, B.E., IIM(A). Parents of well educated, fair girls, below 25.

Respond details, horoscope: Box The Hindu, Chennai 600 002, India.

VANNIYAKULA KSHATRIYA, 33/ 160, very fair, slim, beautiful, youngish entrepreneur, seeks well settled Hindu, never married professionals in India, preferably abroad below 40, Caste no bar. Respond Resume, Photo, Horoscope,


Social Mobility in Castes

  • Hypergamy -- a sufficiently large dowry will permit a low class woman marrying into a higher class.
  • a woman marrying a man of a higher varna is a way for a family to achieve social mobility.
  • Hypergamy not only distinguished castes but also ranks them.
  • Also
  • Construction of false genealogies,
  • name changing,
  • moving localities
  • conversion to Buddhism and Christianity.


  • Each varna is subdivided into many subcastes or Jati
  • Jatis are local ranking systems and are at least partly ordered in a continuum of ritual pollution and purity
  • There are many Jatis and vary from region to region
  • Traditionally each jati was associated with a particular occupation such as blacksmith, farmer, shoemaker, etc.
  • Occupations were hereditary services and rights known as jajmani system
  • Ideally endogamous.
  • Continue to maintain an active existence especially in rural areas


  • Hindus did not question the varna system. It’s simply the way the universe works.
  • In order to be assured of a good life in one's next reincarnation, a person must do everything he or she can to live up to the expectations of his or her varna and jati.
    • A Sudra should work hard;
    • a Brahmin should study religious texts and pray hard.
  • A particular caste position is a reward or punishment for the deeds and misdeeds of past lives justifies one's position in this life.
  • Thus one's caste position is something that is earned –ascribed
  • The scheme is sanctioned in the Rig Veda, ancient Arayan religious text from 1500 BC

The Purusha myth explains the metaphysical origin of the varna

11 When they divided Purusa how many portions did they make? What do they call his mouth, his arms? What do they call his thighs and feet?12 The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya (ksatriyas) made.His thighs became the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced.(Rig Veda - hymn 10.90)


Thousand-headed, thousand-eyed, thousand-footed Purusha primal man,


The reality of Caste

  • The caste system is still present in India, especially in rural areas
  • A question South Asians often ask each other when they first meet are "What is your jati?"
  • People do not question the system so much as their position in it.
  • there is not a one to one correspondence between caste and occupation
  • In Rajasthan the land-owning caste are Dalits whereas the labourers are Brahmins
  • Urbanization, economic development, and industrialization are breaking down caste barriers.
  • In the cities members of different castes are constantly in close contact and forced to interact with one another which helps to weaken the strict rules of the caste system.

Changing Significance of Caste

  • Caste is still important but has diminished since Independence
  • Caste system was seen as an obstacle to progress - The Constitution of India outlawed caste in 1950
  • many professionals and academics are troubled by what it means for them as members of a society that is part of the modern world.
  • The obligation to one's occupation exists independently of ones caste among professionals i.e. to preserve the occupation in the their children it is no longer seen as necessary.

Dalits in Vārānasi, India

  • Dalits often live in urban slums with little access to health care, clean water, and other basic resources. Although the Indian government has worked to improve their status, they continue to suffer discrimination and exploitation by the higher castes.

The first non-Congress government in New Delhi in 1977 argued that lower castes had been stigmatised and exploited in the past and that they should be given special protection through extensive quotas in the domain of public life


Changing Significance of Caste

  • The emergence of a large number of caste-free occupations including government, business, factories, schools, colleges, services, has greatly weakened the specific association between caste and occupation;
  • The social world created by education, occupation and income, the office, the firm, the law court and the laboratory has cut across social world of caste
    • For example the social world of the Brahman judge is different from the Brahman clerk or school teacher.

Changing Significance of Caste

  • The ritual and religious basis of caste has weakened greatly
  • system of purity and pollution which ranked castes relative to one another and kept them separate is in decline
  • Most Hindus are still opposed to inter-caste marriage although inter-caste marriage is on the rise
  • Other criteria becoming important for example, education, occupation, and income

The Politicisation of Caste

  • caste has received a new lease on life by democratic politics which encourages mobilisation of caste loyalties for electoral support.
    • Appeal to caste sentiment, activating networks of kinship and marriage and caste associations
  • In the mobilisation for electoral support caste loyalties tend to act like ethnic loyalties in many Western societies.

Involvement with politics has redefined caste

    • Talk now is of ethnic identities and ethnic loyalties
    • A shift in meaning of caste
      • i.e. conceived more in terms of ethnicity